Saturday, October 20, 2007
Sea Shells and Wolfram's Cellular Automaton
Ah, Southern California!
If you've read Wanderer lately, you know about my time out in the drink. But I wanted to elaborate a little on the sea shells I was looking at as I sat in the surf and let the Pacific wash over me.
I have been reading Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near. I don't want to touch so much on the cult fetish about the singularity (although I will say it, I am in fact a Singulatarian), as much as I want to talk about one of the ideas presented in the book about complexity. The idea is about the intuitive notion that to generate complexity in a system, you need to have complicated initial conditions. Kurzweil cites Wolfram's study of Cellular Automaton. Wolfram demonstrates that with a very simple algorithm, patterns can emerge with more complexity than the deterministic rules of the algorithm can account for.
For instance, our genome can hold about 750 MB of information. But look at us as individuals--we would need a hell of a lot more information than that to produce a simulacrum of ourselves with any sort of fidelity.
With this simple idea in mind, I sat in the ocean studying these simple shells. They were eerily like the output of something out of Wolfram's rule 30. At the time I had this visceral experience that the whole of the ocean was this piece of hardware that was running a program, our collective DNA as its software, and the output was life. That what we are isn't this stuff we are made of--that gets recycled every seven years--but that we are a coherent pattern of information (and perhaps our health is the level of coherence), and that is expressed in matter.
Like the very ocean I was surfing on... I am riding the energy that moves through it, not the water molecules that transmit it. Don't mistake the finger for the moon kind of thing.
I know this is a vast simplification (and possible abuse of) Wolfram's ideas, but none-the-less it catalyzed this emotion in me... one of impossible connection to everything, and that perhaps, consciousness is a natural exponent of the Universe. That everything is setup to encourage more and more information encoding (atoms to molecules to DNA to neurological systems to memories to technology... yes props to Kurzweil) and more and more self-consciousness.